How does it feel to be standing at the threshold of a new age? asked Gabriel Sinclair. His immaculate black pants and silk shirt set him apart from the somewhat slovenly individual he was addressing. There was no doubt as to which one was the more powerful, however.
Between them, the Sword hung magically, turning slowly above the Nexus.
The demon, looking more like a tired, middle-aged plumber than a creature of Darkness, didnt turn from arranging his supplies on the black altar at the far end of the stone chamber. He shrugged.
Dont feel nothing about it either way. It waved a piece of parchment in Gabriels direction. Work order tells me I got a job to do, I do it. Dont think nothing about it. Its just a job.
Nothing at all, Malvorgast?
Look, what do you want me to say? It dont make no difference to me who rules this place. Long as Hell keeps getting its souls on time and you guys keep the quota up, it dont affect my standard of living one way or the other.
The demon, finished up what it was doing, then latched shut the large black valise hed come in with. Okay, youre all set. Just be sure no one breaches the containment ward around the Nexus. I dont offer no warranties against stupidity.
Malvorgast gestured at the tome that lay open on the altar. This heres your cantation. Unlocks the VonAlbrecht ward on the Sword. VonAlbrechts are just one step short of Solomons Seals. Very tricky. You gotta do the incantation exact. After that, you guys know what to do.
And your payment? asked Gabriel.
Guysll be around to collect as usual. The real hits gonna be on that ward. Give old Beelzebub himself a pause, that thing will. Very soul-intensive containment solution, but hey, beats doing the sacrifices yourself, right?
Theres definitely some added convenience to that, yes. Are you going to stay for the show?
Malvorgast shook his head. Nope. Got a call over in Latvia. Someone trying to raise some fifth-century warlord. Seen one Summoning, seen em all.
This ones special.
Yeah, so I hear. Theyre all special. Except, none of em have meant worth a damn in over two thousand years. Someone always pulls the plug before things have a chance to get interesting.
Someone like the Slayer, you mean.
The Slayer, St. George, the Knights Templar, Arthur Pendragon, the Dark Hunter. The list goes on. Take your pick. More goody-two-shoes types out there looking to make their bones on us demons than you can shake a stick at. I expect someonell put this one back in its place, too, before long. But hey, you guys got a dream, Im not gonna be the one to rain on it. Pays me the same however it comes out.
Youre living in the past, Malvorgast. Those names are all gone, all except the Slayer. And shes a has-been whos in no condition to stop a two-day old vampire, much less the Prophet. This is preordained. Theres nothing that can change it.
The demon shrugged again and set a weathered Mets cap on his head. Whatever. I dont get into none of the prophecy stuff. I leave that to guys who know what theyre doing. Me, Im just a contractor, open gates and sling wards for a living. Seen too many self-proclaimed Black Messiahs get their butts kicked back to the Pit in my day to think anything much is gonna come of this one.
Well see, said Gabriel.
A portal appeared before the demon, a blue-gray vortex into darkness. We will at that, I guess. You have a good one, Mac. Best of luck.
Then the demon was gone, and Gabriel Sinclair was left alone in the shadowed Hall of the Prophet. He would not be alone for long. The Cabal would soon arrive, and then Dominion Day would be at hand. Slayer or no Slayer.
* * *
It was when visions of the Apocalypse started appearing in the sober light of day that she knew things were going downhill fast. Either shed gone finally, totally nuts, or something very bad was coming. Neither option appealed to her.
Not much did appeal to her any more. Two years in a recovery facility with a regime of chemicals and therapy designed specifically to deaden every impulse to joy or despair it left very little room for any real feeling. The world just sort of went on around her, the days an endless cycle marked by nothing unusual, nothing consequential.
The fiery sigil that hung suspended in the air before her, the one shed seen every day for a week and no one else had, faded from the center of her room. She sat on the thin mattress of the rooms cot, her knees drawn up to her chest, eyes fixed on the spot where the apparition had decided to make its appearance.
Buffy Summers laughed.
She hadnt laughed in a long time. It wasnt the laugh of the girl she once was, but the empty, ironic, hollow laugh of the woman she had become.
Empty. Hollow. Bitter. Alone. More than anything else, alone. The laugh turned to quiet tears.
What do you see when you dream?
She looked toward the voice, blinking through the moisture that hazed her vision. The newcomer was standing by the closed door, but thats not how he came in.
Now, is that any way to greet an old friend? asked the demon. In his brown leather jacket, felt hat, and tan Dockers, he looked rather like a bookie.
Buffy picked up the clock from the bedside table and hurled it at him. He caught it easily with one hand.
I said get out, Whistler. Get out!
Whistler moved over to her and set the clock back down on the night stand. This what youre reduced to? Throwing clocks? Time was youd have me up against a wall with a cold-wrought iron blade at my throat already.
Not everything. You still hate me, that much is obvious.
Buffy laughed. Twice in one night. She was on a roll. Hate you? I dont hate anything anymore. Thats the problem. I dont hate anything, I dont love anything. I feel nothing. Im worse than the undead I used to kill.
Whistler held the rooms curtains aside slightly and looked out into the night. So, what do you see when you dream?
I see me.
And Im destroying the world.
And you dont feel anything about that?
Thats what the drugs are for, Whistler. So I dont have to feel anything I dont want to, which is a lot.
Whistler let the curtains fall back into place. Thats too bad. Its what he loved in you. Your passion, your love of life in the face of death.
Angels dead. So am I. Parts of me just dont know it yet, she said quietly.
Im starting to see that.
Why are you here, Whistler?
The demon looked at her for a few moments, a hint of sadness in his jaded features. A long time ago, I gave Angel a second chance at life. He took it. Im offering you the same chance.
Tell it to someone who cares.
If you dont take this chance, there wont be another one. Theyll all be dead. Xander, Willow, Giles. All of them, because theyll try to fight whats coming without you, and theyll lose.
Reality check, Whistler. Way I hear it, Xanders not into the whole Slaying scene anymore. Willows got too much intelligence and common sense to pretend to be the Slayer. And Giles? Giles is a recluse who spends all his time trying to communicate with the dead, said Buffy.
About Xander, maybe youre right. Willows a different story. The woman thinks shes another Jenny Calendar, and we know what happened to the original. And Giles will definitely be there for this one. Youve never really taken the time to understand him, and its your loss. Whatever his personal demons, hes always around for the big good-versus-evil fight cards. And this ones the biggest of em all.
Buffy looked at her hands for a minute, then turned a hard gaze on the demon. Why should I believe you?
Because you got nothing else to believe in anymore, kid.